One of my favorite phrases is “There’s a geography for everything.” I usually tell my students this on the first day of class when I’m trying to explain what exactly geography is. Our department’s GEOG 101 class, World Regional Geography, is an excellent setting for showcasing this reality. I have been lucky enough to teach this class for the last four semesters and instill a wonder for the breadth that geography holds as a discipline.
GEOG 101 counts for a general education credit, so naturally, the course is filled with many students who have not taken a geography course before, let alone even considered geography as an interesting subject. Packing in a little bit of everything, such as cultural geographies of food, tourism, politics, or history and explanations of a region’s physical geographies, works to keep students of differing backgrounds engaged with the course. For example, in the lecture I give on Canada, the second lecture of the class, I provide a broad overview of the many geographies the country offers. For those interested in physical science, I discuss the effect of climate change on the opening of the Northwest Passage (which also engages political and economic geographies). For those interested in biology, I cover the annual polar bear migration through Churchill, Manitoba (which connects with tourism geographies as well). For those students focused on getting through the class period so they can go to lunch, I talk about the maple syrup industry in Quebec, which dominates the world’s supply, and I usually bring in a sampling of the product for students to enjoy. While only a small example of the topics my lecture includes, one can see the many connections made with students to capture their attention and engage them with geographic concepts.
Though my own interests in geography have always been eclectic, I was inspired to construct my 101 courses in this way by my undergraduate adviser at the University of Mary Washington, Professor Dawn Bowen. The first geography class I ever took was her Geography of Western North America, a regional geography course that took detailed looks at specific areas of the western United States and Canada through a variety of lenses. While Professor Bowen is self-admittedly uninterested in physical geography, she never shied away from including such topics in her lectures, especially when they were important for understanding the region of the day. This teaching style, where the needs and desires of the student to learn and be engaged are placed at the forefront, provides students with the best opportunities to succeed, and I strive to make my classes as inclusive, accessible, and student-centered as possible to facilitate such success.
Though it definitely takes a lot of work to create an accessible and engaging class, it also has been incredibly fun and rewarding. Students oftentimes come up to me after class and chat about a topic mentioned in class with which they have some connection. They appreciate the broad approach that my teaching style offers, and I know that several students that I previously taught in GEOG 101 have become geography majors as a result of the links to their interests that I made in class. It has been rewarding personally as well because I have had to become familiar with and appreciate topics that I previously regarded as insignificant or dull. Because I’ve tried to introduce as many geographies as possible to students, I have been broadened as a geographer in my own research and curiosity. Every semester I am acquainted with an ever-growing number of geographies that expands my connection with the world around me, driving me to be more globally conscious. In addition, this will continue as long as I am teaching because, as they say, there is a geography for everything.